Energy drinks can give us that extra boost to get through the day at work, school, or even during our workout. We're not just talking about coffee, tea, soda or sports drinks, but beverages that have additional caffeine and other stimulants.  Energy drinks are marketed to enhance sports performance, delay fatigue, and increase alertness.  But what are the risks involved with our kids drinking these beverages? The American College of Sports Medicine released a paper this month to define energy drinks, how they affect sports performance, and the dangers of our kids drinking them.

The effects of caffeine
Caffeine is the greatest health risk in energy drinks, which are commonly marketed to children and teens. Caffeine is known to enhance sports performance by reducing fatigue and improving reaction time. However, the negative effects include increased heart rate, blood pressure, body temperature, and sleep disturbances. It can also increase anxiety in those with anxiety disorders and trigger an irregular heart rhythm.

Harmful doses of caffeine
Young children are at greater risk of harmful effects of caffeine because they weigh less.  The threshold of caffeine toxicity in adults is about 400 mg a day. Whereas in a healthy adolescent (12-18 years), the threshold is 100 mg/day.  For example, 16 ounces of an energy drink or coffee can contain up to 200 mg of caffeine. This amount may not be harmful in a healthy adult, but it can be dangerous in children and teens. Caffeine amounts may vary in energy drinks. Doses exceeding 500 mg may result in caffeine toxicity in children and young adults.

Educating kids and teens about the health risks

The ACSM, as well as other professional and educational organizations such as the American Academy of Pediatrics, Health Canada, and the National Federation of State High School Associations, recommend the following:

  • Children and adolescents should not consume energy drinks. Other groups who should avoid caffeine include those who are pregnant or breastfeeding, taking stimulants or caffeine containing medications, or have cardiovascular conditions.

  • Regulatory actions are needed. Warning labels identifying the caffeine amount should be listed on energy drinks to help consumers make informed choices and understand the risks involved.

  • Energy drinks should not be marketed to children and teens.

  • Education delivered by health-care providers, athletic trainers, and nutritionists about energy drink risks should be a priority at schools and universities.

  • Energy drinks have not been extensively studied, especially long term, and the risks of caffeine toxicity outweigh the perks of feeling more "energized."